MAY 1, 2008 - MARKEY: Broadband-Based Tech Must Be Accessible for Persons with Disabilities

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Representative Edward J. Markey (D-MA), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet this morning convened a hearing to discuss draft legislation on enhancing access to broadband technology and services for persons with disabilities.

The following is the chairman’s opening statement:

“Good Morning. The rise of digital technologies and services, meshed with broadband access to the Internet, is driving further innovation across communications markets. As these changes challenged marketplace participants and spawned new services and markets, various industries have lamented over recent years that Congress and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) simply cannot keep pace. They repeatedly assert that our nation’s laws and regulations are antiquated. They have successfully pressed for changes, and continue to push for additional ones, in various laws and regulations to reflect new technology and new competition. “

‘Hurry up,’ they say. ‘Get on with changing all of these old regulations.’ ‘Quickly update our communications laws.’

“However, when it comes to updating our laws and ensuring access for individuals with disabilities, we seem to be hearing a different story from the industry.

“‘Slow down,’ they say. ‘Not so fast.’ ‘Shouldn’t we wait and see where technology is going first before we start updating regulations?’

“It seems to me that the question in this area is not whether Congress will keep up with the changes in technology, but rather, will the industries keep up with the changes that are already happening in millions of homes around the country?

“That’s because millions of consumers today are utilizing an array of exciting and innovative new technologies that are Internet-based. Our national media environment has gone from encompassing not only the traditional media, but new media. Indeed, we are at a point today where the people publish and blog and communicate themselves. The challenge for the industries is whether they will keep pace in ensuring that these empowering technologies enhance the lives of all consumers or whether individuals with disabilities will fall behind.

“The fact is that the new technologies and services in themselves are neither ‘good’ nor ‘bad,’ they only become ‘good’ when we animate such technologies with the human values that reflect the best of what we are as a society. In other words, the wizardry of the wires and the sophistication of the software programs do little for those who cannot affordably access or effectively use them. Our job as policymakers is to help ensure such affordable access and utilization and this is what the draft legislation I have circulated is intended to do.

“This is not to say that companies in various fields have not made efforts. Progress in ensuring that communications technologies serve the needs of individuals with disabilities is evident in several products and services offered by many companies, including Apple, Sun Microsystems, Time Warner, Adobe, Microsoft, and other high tech, wireline and wireless providers. And as our population ages, there will be more of us who will inevitably benefit from these efforts.

“There will be a tech fair sponsored by many of these companies on May 16th so that Members and staff may see the products and services such companies are offering or developing in this area. These initiatives are to be applauded and I commend them.

“Finally, I must note that many of the arguments being raised against provisions of the draft bill are eerily similar to arguments raised against hearing aid compatibility or against the closed captioning bill I sponsored and successfully battled to make law in 1990. In that debate, we were told that mandating closed captioning would add $20 to the price of a TV set. That is was overly burdensome. That it would take a lifetime and a fortune to caption all the movies and television programs out there. Notwithstanding those objections, Congress passed my bill and the President signed it and today, not only is it indispensable to millions of individuals who are deaf or hearing-impaired, but closed captioning is used in immigrant families to help them learn the language, and seen in sports bars across the country. Moreover, the mandate didn’t cost remotely close to $20. It cost about one dollar per set.

“The purpose of today’s hearing is to better understand the needs of individuals with disabilities as well as their excitement about what new technologies can offer. We will also be able to gauge the extent of efforts by companies and industries in meeting these expressed needs and aspirations and how best to update our laws in the new digital, broadband Internet environment. Because even though the technologies and marketplace may change, the values we seek to instill are immutable. I thank our witnesses for joining us this morning and look forward to their testimony. Thank you.”

A copy of Rep. Markey's draft legislation is available HERE


May 1, 2008

CONTACT: Jessica Schafer, 202.225.2836